Loan Watch: 3 Players who have thrived on loan this season
Updated: Apr 1
By James Whiffing
The 2019/20 season has seen many breakthroughs youngsters for Arsenal, with the likes of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka forging their way into the first team and becoming integral parts of the squad. However, some promising youngsters did not get the opportunity to shine for the Gunners this season, but did indeed get valuable first team experience at other clubs on loan. Here’s an in depth look at three particular players and how they fared.
After producing a series of encouraging performances in the Europa League last season, Emile Smith-Rowe attracted Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig to sign him on loan for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, the Englishman failed to regain his fitness after suffering a groin injury and was limited to just 3 appearances and a handful of minutes for the German side.
This season has seen Smith-Rowe loaned out to Huddersfield Town in the second tier of English football and he’s had a much better time of it at the Yorkshire side. In 699 minutes, the 19-year-old has scored once and registered 2 assists. He has managed an impressive 87% pass accuracy with 282 completed passes, which highlights his technical security on the ball- something Mikel Arteta will admire, with the Spanish coach trying to build a possession based team.
Although his 57% dribble success rate seems low, it shows his willingness to take players on and his fearlessness when carrying the ball forwards – this is a player that Huddersfield Town were crying out for considering their lowly 18th place and how badly they lacked creativity before the Blonde-haired teenager came in. Smith-Rowe also boasts an admirable 7.06 average match rating according to futmob, which indicates his importance in the Huddersfield team and explains why fans of the Terriers want to sign the youngster permanently.
If Smith-Rowe can develop physically and improve his decision-making in the final third, there’s no reason why he couldn’t break into the Arsenal first team under the stewardship of Arteta next season. He possesses all the raw attributes to thrive in the sort of system Arteta is looking to implement, he just needs a bit of toning and, most importantly, more game time.
Arsenal signed Saliba during the summer transfer window in July for a fee of £27 million before loaning him back to his original club Saint-Etienne for the 2019/20 season. Over the past two seasons in Ligue 1, the Frenchman has established himself as a key member of the Green’s side, with his succession of solid performances at the back helping them stay out of the relegation zone.
Saliba has demonstrated that he is very calm, confident and assured on the ball, with his impressive 88% pass accuracy and 86% dribble success rate. Although he hasn’t attempted too many dribbles (he is a centre-back after all), this stat shows that he picks the right time to carry the ball out from his own half without losing it. This ability to play out from the back will certainly be something Arteta will analyse, with the Spaniard’s system relying so heavily on the distribution from his defenders.
In 992 minutes of football, the 19-year-old has made 35 clearances, 21 interceptions and 9 tackles (47% tackle success rate), which demonstrates that he can read the game well and knows when to pick a pass or to get the ball clear to prevent further danger of an opposition attack. His 47% tackle success rate also shows that he doesn’t tend to dive in as much and instead picks when he goes in to win the ball back or when he jockeys the opponent. Saliba has also received no yellow or red cards so far this season, which shows that he isn’t rash and doesn’t lose his head during matches- this sort of discipline is extremely impressive for such a young player and could be crucial in a division as intense as the Premier League.
It will be interesting to see if William Saliba can force his way into the Arsenal first team next season, with new Gunners boss Mikel Arteta having signed a similar centre back (on loan) in Pablo Mari, who is also calm and assured on the ball, with a varied passing range. If Arteta decides to permanently sign Mari, then Saliba will have to prove himself with either another loan spell or in limited game time in cup competitions.
Mavropanos has endured a torrid time at Arsenal since his £1.8 million arrival from Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in January 2018, with persistent injuries halting his development. In January the Gunners decided to loan him out to Nurnberg in the second tier of German football to get some much needed game time.
Mavropanos has established himself as a solid centre-back option for Nurnberg so far this season, with the Greek international playing 372 minutes for the Bundesliga 2 outfit so far this season. The 22-year-old has managed 24 clearances, 19 interceptions and 2 tackles (50% tackle success rate), with one of those tackles being an exceptional, crucial last-ditch tackle to put the ball behind for a corner after the Nurnberg keeper saved a penalty.
These stats suggest that Mavropanos, similarly to Saliba, is more cautious and picky with his tackles and only puts in a foot if he feels the time is right. The Greek international has a slightly disappointing 80% pass completion rate, although a decent dribble success rate of 60%, which shows that he isn’t afraid to try and create attacks with his long balls or dribble forward with the ball to create more space to utilise his passing. Whilst his passing may not be as secure as Arteta would like, it does demonstrate his adventurousness in his distribution, which me endear him to the new boss.
If Mavropanos can continue his solid run of form for Nurnberg and stay fit, then it could set up a fascinating rivalry between himself and William Saliba for Arsenal’s centre-back spot for the years to come. With their youthfulness, at 22 and 19 respectively, they could well forge a partnership at the club with Luiz and Sokratis entering the final stages of their career.